Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): toxic algae

Two ways to reduce toxic algal blooms

Toxic algae. Photo: Eric Vance, US EPA

Photo: Eric Vance, US EPA

For a month now, South Florida Atlantic beaches have been blanketed by a sickly green, toxic algae sludge that has kept tourists away and caused local businesses to lose millions.

Florida has a bigger headache this summer than most states, but algae blooms are hardly unique.

Last week, more than 100 people were sickened from toxic algae in a Utah lake largely fed by agricultural runoff and treated sewage water. And just two summers ago, an outbreak in Lake Erie forced the City of Toledo to close off its water supply for nearly half a million residents.

Agricultural runoff also means wasted money for farmers, who can spend approximately half of their input costs on fertilizer.

There are ways to reduce the runoff that contributes to water quality problems and kills marine life, year after year. Algae blooms can be minimized and maybe even prevented if we scale up existing efforts to improve fertilizer efficiency and soil health – practices that can also save farmers money and boost their yields.

Two initiatives and private-sector partnerships are making real headway in doing just that. And if these efforts are replicated at scale, they could have a national – and even international – impact. Read More »

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Beyond regulation: making the business case for sustainable farming

BarnStream_shutterstock_1539474_RFRegulations and lawsuits generate more tension, disagreement, division, and, too often, failure to communicate, than just about anything else in the agricultural world. Regulations are on my mind of late because of several developments:

    • Ohio recently considered legislation to increase regulations on fertilizer applications after a toxic algae bloom last August shut down water supplies to nearly half a million people.
    • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in the final stages of a proposal to resolve ongoing confusion about the extent of federal jurisdiction over isolated wetlands and streams under the Clean Water Act (CWA), clarifying which are protected and which are not, based on science. Sixty percent of our nation’s streams lack clear protection from pollution under the CWA, yet one of every three Americans gets their drinking water from streams that are vulnerable to pollution.  Just this week, new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell noted that Congress will address this proposal in the current legislative session.

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    Posted in Ecosystems, Fertilizer, Partnerships, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture, Water / Also tagged , , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

    Will Ohio’s proposed fertilizer legislation solve the runoff problem?

    Proposed legislation in Ohio would regulate when farmers can apply fertilizer to their fields

    Proposed legislation in Ohio would regulate when farmers can apply fertilizer to their fields.

    The Ohio General Assembly will vote next week on legislation that aims to address the problem of nutrient pollution, which was responsible for a massive algae bloom in Lake Erie that contaminated the drinking water of more than 400,000 Ohio residents this past August.

    In short, the bill would ban application of fertilizer on land that is frozen, covered by snow, saturated with rain, or when the weather predicts a certain amount of rainfall. Those who violate the ban could face penalties of up to $10,000.

    Policies that set rational ground rules for when farmers can apply fertilizer to their fields and that create real incentives to reduce nutrient pollution are important, but it’s going to take more than legislation to solve the runoff problem. Read More »

    Posted in Ecosystems, Fertilizer, Supply Chain, Sustainable Agriculture, Water / Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

    A business-smart approach to ending fertilizer pollution

    Toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie. Photo credit: NOAA

    Toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie. Photo credit: NOAA

    The toxic algae scare in Toledo this past summer really drove home the problem of fertilizer pollution in this country, right through the faucets of half a million unsuspecting residents. Don’t drink the water, officials warned. Don’t even touch it.

    We need and rely on farmers every day for our well-being. But when producing food for a growing population threatens to deprive us of water, another life essential, it’s time to rethink the way we feed America.

    That’s why I’m so excited about EDF’s new Sustainable Sourcing Initiative. Our goal in this collaborative effort is to engage every player in the U.S. grain supply chain to solve what has been an intractable problem for decades.

    The challenge

    Fertilizer, of course, is necessary for achieving high crop yields. But its inefficient use contributes to climate instability and causes dead zones that contaminate water supplies and kill millions of fish each year.

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    What is climate-smart agriculture?

    quoteYou may have heard by now about “climate-smart agriculture.” It’s the catchphrase that came out of the United Nations Climate Summit this week and the reason I was in New York to participate in a panel discussion on how to achieve food security for a growing population in a climate-changing world.

    More than 20 governments and 30 organizations announced they would join the newly launched Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, which aims to enable 500 million farmers worldwide to practice climate-smart agriculture. This is wonderful. But what does it mean in practice?

    My colleagues and I have been asking ourselves this question since the concept was originally introduced by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in 2010. Over the past four years, we’ve done some hard thinking on which practices, precisely, will get us to a point where we can keep pace with the food demands of a growing global population and increase the resiliency of our food systems to the harsh impacts of climate change.

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    How the marketplace is driving clean water solutions

    BoyMomDrinkFtn_Photos.com_87822780_4CC_RFFederal and state governments aren’t doing enough to keep polluted runoff from reaching America’s waterways. That’s the conclusion the Environmental Protection Agency – aka the federal government – has reached in a new report from the office of its inspector general.

    Anyone surprised?

    Government has tried to reign in nutrient pollution for decades, only to watch dead zones persist in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and Lake Erie. Just last month, a toxic brew of urban and agricultural runoff shut down Toledo’s water for two days. Seven weeks later, many of the city’s half million residents are still afraid to drink what’s coming out of the tap.

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    Lake Erie’s fertilizer problem isn’t over, but we’re working on it

    tractor fertilizing

    Fertilizer is the engine of agriculture, but its inefficient use means that excess fertilizer ends up in our waterways, contaminating freshwater supplies and causing algae blooms, such as those that recently cut off water supplies to hundreds of thousands of residents in Toledo, OH. In addition to impacts on communities, algae blooms also affect ecosystems, killing millions of fish and harming the seafood and recreation industries.

    Nutrient runoff from fertilizer is a problem that many stakeholders, including farmers, have been trying to fix for many years, both in the Western Lake Erie Basin and beyond. The efforts to date have had a real impact, but that impact has not been nearly enough to solve the problem of dangerous and costly dead zones.

    We need to do much more at a much larger scale, while also increasing productivity to feed a growing population.

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